Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

Louis V. Gerstner Jr. (2,002)

Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround

Harper Business, Printed in USA, 372 pp.

Louis V. Gerstner Jr. is a graduate in engineering science from Dartmouth College and from Harvard Business School. His book is about the IBM turnaround and lessons Gerstner shares about management.

The first three parts of the book are basically dedicated to IBM, and the IT (Information Technology) Industry. The last two parts are more about sharing lessons learned not only through his remarkable experience at IBM as CEO (Chief Executive Officer), but also lessons learned as executive at McKinsey, American Express and Nabisco.

Gerstener emphasize on culture, leadership and strategy-execution.

I especially like his summary on management philosophy, I believe every CEO should have a precise idea of his own set of values and be consequent with his or her principles.

He also emphasize the importance of control or metrics when he says: “the executive does not understand that people do what you inspect not what you expect.“

His advice to out-execute your competitor is, you must communicate clear strategies and values, reinforce those values in everything the company does, and allow people the freedom to act, trusting they will execute consistent with their values.

Gerstner as other management thinkers believe that vision statements can create a sense of confidence that could be dangerous for companies. Good strategies, he refers, start with massive amounts of quantitative analysis-hard, difficult analysis that is blended with wisdom, insight, and risk taking.

He also describes how good strategies are long on detail and short on vision. They (strategies) lay out  multi-year plans in great quantitative detail: the market segment the company will pursue, market share numbers that must be achieved, expenses levels that must management, and resources that must be applied. These plans are then reviewed regularly and become, in  a sense, the driving force behind everything the company does.

One of the last chapters is “Corporation and the Community” where he encourages companies to not only give money but fundamentally take part with its unique skills and resources to the solution of social problems.

This is a great book to learn about one of the greatest companies in the history of USA and the IT industry.



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